Why I Founded A Feminist Magazine, When I'm Tired of Feminism / Lydia Ibrahim
When I was in my final years of school, I started to become interested in women’s rights. It was around the same time that I confirmed to myself that I wanted to carve out a career that would hopefully create a developmental change in the world. When I later left school aged eighteen, I founded an independent publication designed to give women a voice - all women, disadvantaged women and strong women. I would spend hours up at night contacting inspirational women and activists, and would produce printed copies which would later end up on the shelves of shops. Now, Femini is an online platform and also, a fairly big part of my life — I certainly never expected it to end up where it is today. More importantly, I am truly so happy to have given women a space where they can share their concerns about the livelihood of other women in their communities. I cannot quite pen how incredible it is to share the stories of women such as Samah Salaime, who can give such an insightful account of how women live in countries which I will probably never visit myself - such as Palestine and Kuwait.
But, when late last year I was given the opportunity to debate on feminism in a prestigious debating event, I was conflicted about the fact that I didn't feel overjoyed at the prospect of defending the feminist movement. And whilst it was truly an honour to receive this invitation, I couldn’t bring myself to do it.
Because, the truth is, when I think of the feminist movement in the UK as it stands, I see it as — at large — quite selfish.
There are currently efforts from many feminists to include the needs of women who are considered to be minorities where they live. The broad term for this is “intersectionality”, and aims to look at the specific and different needs of women from their own backgrounds. This could be looking at how the experiences of Black women in the UK, will be different to the experiences of Latina women, and so, tries to navigate how best to address these individual issues through the collective feminist movement. The term coined by American professor Kimberlé Crenshaw gave a textbook definition to the concept in the 1980s:
"The view that women experience oppression in varying configurations and in varying degrees of intensity. Cultural patterns of oppression are not only interrelated, but are bound together and influenced by the intersectional systems of society. Examples of this include race, gender, class, ability, and ethnicity.”
This seemed to make sense, at first. But where the feminist movement in the UK falls incredibly short, in my eyes, is that intersectionality usually only really looks at the lives of minority women who have been born or live in developed countries. And I'm certain that my personal experience of life as a Turkish-mixed woman in the UK, is vastly different to how life would have panned out had I been born in Turkey itself — a country where domestic abuse and censorship is batted away with an eyelid’s blink.
My education probably wouldn't be the same. My relationships wouldn't be the same. My legal standing as a woman wouldn't be the same.
And whilst that isn't to say that the feminist movement shouldn't focus on anything in developed countries, I'm more concerned at the next to nothing which is uttered about the third world and countries further afield.
I can understand that this is, in most circumstances, "unchartered territory" for Western women; it's difficult for most of us to try and place ourselves into the shoes of a woman in a situation so different to our own. But I feel that there needs to be a greater consciousness within the movement, and I strongly believe that we could be doing more to support those who are trying to make a difference for those women, as well as those who are suffering from grievances in our own nations. I hoped that through Femini, I could shed at least a little light on some of these issues which are broadly unspoken about in Western media, and give these women themselves the chance to write about it and share their stories.
Another reason for growing so tired of the feminist movement would have to be how distant many of these issues are treated as being. It is so important to remember that some of these "distant, traditional" practices, usually tied to the Middle East and Africa, are happening close to us. In the UK alone, it is believed that some 170,000 women and girls are estimated to be living with the aftermath of Female Genital Mutilation, and it has also been estimated that over 20,000 girls under the age of 15 are still at risk of being abused in this way. Many diaspora communities in the UK fail to be represented, with their vital needs met appropriately.
Of course — that isn’t to say that there aren’t incredibly powerful campaigns and efforts from certain organisations in the UK - and I'll constantly praise those for the work that they do.
Women For Women International is an organisation which I came across, who have such a phenomenal, developed and unique way of approaching the situations which many women face in undeveloped countries. Their year-long programmes equip women from nations like Rwanda and Nigeria, to earn their own money for the first time, to regain their confidence after abuse and to actively participate in their communities. And when looking at the lasting results of these programmes - they work. But when I learnt about W4W International, I was so pleased to see that their work also entailed speaking to the men in these communities and addressing their views on the rights of women. And I was so happy to see that there was something being done that made an awful lot of sense to me.
Why I stress that it was so important to me that men in the community were included, is because the feminist movement largely excludes male voices. Whilst of course, men can be feminists, the men who aren't very interested in women's rights, or who are opposed to them, are often demonised and quickly labelled as "toxic", as opposed to being invited to conversate and debate on matters. Sadly, whilst the levels of misandry within women's movements are often overemphasised by some male groups, there are many problematic areas of the movement which are infested with this hatred.
So, yes - I started a feminist magazine, but I'm tired of the modern, Western feminist movement. And I hope that I can continue to nurture this platform into one where men and women from the UK, from abroad and from diaspora communities can write about what is happening in their country, so that we can educate one another and learn from one another. And I desperately hope that the feminist movement, as a whole, moves further towards using its voice for the voiceless, rather than swimming around in its own fish tank of ideas.
I would like to end by proudly stating that I think that women are powerful. I think that there are so many women in the UK who are inspirational and who have amazing stories to tell. I think that there are women in the UK who care about the lives of others. And I am so happy to have met women in the UK who see past just their every day and reach out for those who don't have a voice. I hope to grow into one of them women more every day.
Words by Lydia Ibrahim, Founder of Femini Magazine
Artwork: Andrea Vega